The series of works Paintings I revolves around one of the most prominent centres of interest of the Art & Language group: the relationship between our ability to construct the world in terms of the pictorial or visual and to do so in linguistic or discursive terms. In Paintings I, linguistic reflection occupies the place traditionally used for pictorial representation or the painting. The fact of placing a text instead of an image functions as a meta-reflection on representation itself. As Art & Language states: “were called Paintings I, all texts of various kinds, from paragraphs of our own notes to favourite quotations from the work of others. The text is seen both as the ‘equivalent’ of a painted surface and, of course, as something which entirely suppresses is literal presence.” (Art & Language in Practice, vol. 1, Manual il·lustrat / Illustrated Handbook. Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies, 1999 [cat. exp.], p. 221).
The complete series consists of 38 works, each reproducing a paragraph from a single text. These are pages or excerpts from the conversation processes of the members of Art & Language. Sometimes they are philosophical writings, at others scientific, while still others are purely descriptive texts of an event or situation. At first sight these may seem texts designed exclusively to be read, but the very fact that they carry the title ‘paintings’ situates us in front of them, not as readers but as spectators: paintings are for contemplation, not reading. So, as viewers, we are able to observe certain ‘details’ in the paintings that will not be perceived by readers; and vice versa.
The Paintings also raise another issue that in those years was a subject of reflection for Art & Language: the condition of the object. What can be considered an art object and what not? ‘We need objects?’ Painting I No. 11 openly questions. Linking this to the interests of Minimalist art, and following the German mathematician and logician Gottlob Frege, the text points to the thesis that an object ends up being the idea we have of it and its designation in language, rather than all its extensional or physical properties. Painting I No. 5 describes, with Art & Language’s typical sense of irony, a method of drawing associated with engineering: the isometric drawing. The text analyses the visual properties of a cube. That is, instead of a drawing, what we are offered is the description of a method for drawing a cube. Painting I No. 18 presents a discussion about a very specific philosophical subject, the logic of representation. There is a direct reference to the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in the reproduction of a fragment of one of his most famous works, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
When Art & Language produced the series Paintings I, there was still some ambiguity concerning whether a text could be considered art. In this context, to have presented a work of this kind, which argued that things are their position in language, was, in itself, an affirmation of where they stood in the debate.
Gold does not take on any dirt. And gold, just are diamonds, is an exalted material. It possesses such a degree of abstraction that it encounters you –if you use it artistically– on an already exalted level.